Though a small country with historically low investment in defense, Belgium nonetheless has a vibrant aerospace and defense industry that offers myriad opportunities for U.S. companies. Due to the war in Ukraine, Belgium – a NATO ally – will increase its defense spending from 1.1 percent of GDP to 1.54 percent ($10 billion) with a goal to reach 2 percent by 2035. Investment will be allocated to personnel, equipment, munitions, engineering, and cybersecurity. Belgian companies have provided F-16 depot-level maintenance for three decades under the auspices of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) program. They are currently under contract to perform Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for US Air Force F-16s stationed in Europe and CONUS. Belgium also boasts a robust civilian and military maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) industry. Belgium is also a global player in the small arms industry with FN Herstal.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised political awareness and deep concern about the fallout from Belgium’s reduced defense investment since the end of the Cold War. The attrition culminated in 2014 when the Ministry of Defense (MOD) retired, and did not replace, its last Leopard 1 (1965). This left Belgium with no Main Battle Tanks in its inventory. Political motivation to invest in defense is at an all-time high and deemed very urgent.
While details on how the increased budget will be allocated are vague, Belgium does intend to invest heavily in its active-duty personnel to support its “People Our Priority” plan which includes increasing the number of active-duty personnel from 25,000 to 29,000 by 2030 and simultaneously reduce the average age of its personnel (currently at 36.4 years) through retirement. The MOD also plans to increase civilian personnel by 1,000 people, refresh troop equipment, and invest in training and education to improve mission preparedness.
Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder’s overarching “STAR” plan to revamp the Belgian military will focus on: Security, Technology, Ambition and Resilience. Key to this revamp is the addition of Cybersecurity as a new, fifth component of the Belgian military to stand alongside its Land, Sea, Air, and Medical components. In November 2022, the MOD launched its Cyber Command which is planned to be fully operational by 2024. The investment is expected to reach $400 million.
The STAR plan will also encompass the procurement of larger military systems such as armored vehicles, air defense capabilities, artillery systems, resources for engineers and logistics, transport aircraft, and drones. When possible, the equipment should be able to serve a secondary purpose of emergency response and disaster relief.
In addition, the Belgian government has set aside an additional billion euros to boost the army’s short term operationality. The extra money will go to “quick wins” such as ammunition stocks, protective gear, anti-tank weapons, protected vehicles, communications systems that have been depleted by support given to Ukraine.
The MOD also plans to invest $100 million in the construction of new, energy-efficient, ecologically-sound caserns likely in Charleroi and Oost Vlaanderen.
In addition to ammunition and air defense, cybersecurity offers tremendous prospects for U.S. companies. The pandemic led to an increase in teleworking and a dramatic spread of networks. These new broad target, less secure networks invited increased cyberattacks.
Doing Business in the Belgian Defense Equipment Sector
Despite frustrations with ITAR, the U.S. remains a strong partner and trusted supplier of Defense Equipment to Belgium. The Belgian MOD and industry value products made in the United States – particularly those used by the Department of Defense. These are viewed as quality, reliably sourced equipment with a proven track record. Belgium also takes cues from the Netherlands with whom it cooperates and shares equipment. In addition to the United States, Belgium tends to source its defense equipment from EU countries. Companies looking for opportunities on the Belgian Defense Equipment market can either track opportunities on Belgium’s e-Procurement portal or the Belgian MOD’s e-Tendering module. Belgium also procures defense equipment and services through the NSPA’s e-portal. In addition, companies looking for insights on Belgian defense procurement should track @DedonderLudivin and @BelgiumDefence on the social media website X, formerly known as Twitter. To sell to the Belgian MOD, small and medium-sized companies are advised to retail local representation. The U.S. Commercial Service can assist companies in finding and connecting with prospective partners in Belgium.
- Ministry of Defense (MOD)
- FN Herstal: This Walloon government-owned company has established itself as a global leader in the production of small arms, catering to military, law enforcement, and civilian markets. Their products include pistols, rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, and air and land mounted weapon systems. The company is known for the quality of its products and world-class R&D.
- Orizio Group is an international group headquartered in Belgium composed of more than 10 industrial locations and permanent stations at dozens of international airports and military bases across 15 countries. It owns the Belgian MRO, SABENA Engineering and SABCA the Belgian branch specialized in servicing military and civilian aircraft. SABCA heads the consortium to produce F-35 tail components.
- BMT Aerospace: An aerospace company that specializes in complex gears and actuators.
- ASCO Industries: A company that produces parts for both military and commercial aircraft, including actuators for the F-35.
- PBEC: The Patria Belgian Engine Center is a center of excellence for the F100-PW engine currently supporting 15 air forces, including the U.S. Air Force.
- Skywin: The aerospace cluster of Wallonia is an association of companies, research organizations and training centers engaged in public-private partnerships and in the implementation of innovative collaborative projects.
- FLAG: The Flemish Aerospace Group (FLAG) is a cluster organization for enterprises active in the aerospace and defense market.
- BMSO: The Belgian Military Supply Office (BMSO) located in Hyattsville, MD is responsible for the Belgian MOD acquisition activities on the North American continent.
- NSPA: The NATO Support and Procurement Agency is a NATO entity that procures defense equipment on behalf of NATO member nations such as Belgium.
- DSEI, London
- Eurosatory, Paris
- NATO EDGE, Mons
- Paris Air Show
- Farnborough Air Show
For more information on the Belgian Defense Equipment sector, contact: Ira.Bel@trade.gov